Visualization for Better Guitar Playing

I’d like to share a valuable technique with you that I often use for myself and my students.

If you notice that you are struggling with a new chord, technique or piece of music, pause for a minute to step back, remove your hands from the instrument and take a deep breath. This will help to change your mindset from struggle to relaxation.

When you are relaxed you will be better able to focus on fixing the problem rather than trying to fight your way through it.

At this point, close your eyes and just visualize what it is you are trying to do. If you are trying to play a difficult phrase then picture your fingers doing exactly what they need to do.

As you do this keep the following points in mind:

  • Picture yourself moving your fingers in the most efficient way possible. Every finger should move directly to where it needs to go with no extra motion at all.
  • Every move you make should be fluid and with as little exertion as possible.
  • Imagine with all of your might – picture exactly what it will look like in full color and full detail. Picture what the strings and the neck and the pick will feel like. Imagine what it will sound like.
  • If you are practicing something to use for live performance, picture yourself playing it in front of a room full of people.
  • Picture yourself playing with perfect technique – proper hand position, nice clean notes, amazing tone.

Also, try pretending to be someone else as you play. I remember watching a video of an Eric Clapton performance once. After it was over, I grabbed my guitar and started playing. In my head I was picturing Clapton as he was ripping through a solo. I found that I was getting the “vibe” of Clapton’s playing. Some of the energy, tone and technique was finding its way into my own playing. I felt like I was not in control but I was just watching as my body created this fantastic music.

I have used this technique for myself and shared it with my students and it has produced some great results. Your success with it depends largely on your willingness to participate. You might feel silly or childish pretending to be someone else. You need to get over that to really benefit from this technique.

If you imagine with all of your ability that you ARE your favorite guitar player you will become a better player for it. If your playing benefits from it – why not do it? Besides, no one has to know what’s in your head as you play. That space is your own to share or keep to yourself as you like.

Visualization gives you a great way to practice without having access to a guitar. In fact, it’s a great way to practice even if you do have access to one. By eliminating the distraction of actually playing the instrument you can zone in on what needs to go on inside your head to be a successful player.

How To Play Bar Chords On Guitar

Learning to play bar chords (chords where a single finger plays more than one string) on guitar is not an easy task. Your fingers are forced to contort into positions that they would never normally be in. You need to hold them in that position for the duration of the chord. And it takes a lot of hand strength to do it.

When you play bar chords be sure to keep your barring finger straight.  I’ve seen many beginners trying to play them with a slightly bent finger and it usually doesn’t work.

One of the most helpful things I’ve found to assist my students with bar chords is to have them rotate the fretting hand towards the thumb slightly so that they are using more of the side of the finger to play the chord.  So you’ll rotate it counterclockwise (counterclockwise if you are a lefty).  I demonstrate this in the video below.  Many times this trick alone has helped students be able to play their first bar chord.

Another thing that helps is to practice holding the bar firmly for a few seconds at a time.  You should pick each string individually to see if you can get it to ring clearly.  At first you may only get one or two (or even zero…) strings to ring.  That’s ok!  If you practice this exercise consistently you WILL start to see an improvement.  Do not give up.

Do this several times each day.  You can slowly build your strength by performing this exercise more times each day or by holding a little longer each time.  Be sure to use good form every time though!  Keep a straight barring finger and rotate that finger like I described.

The key ingredients here are persistence, patience and practice.  Everyone can do this but it may take some work.  Hang in there!

If you have questions or comments be sure to leave them in the comments section!

How to Read a Fretboard Diagram

The Basics

Fretboard diagrams can be used for all fretted instruments including bass, guitar and mandolin. They give you a quick and easy way of finding notes on an instrument without having to read music. The diagram below is for guitar.  It shows six vertical lines. Each of these represents a string on the instrument. The first line on the left is the 6th string (the thickest string). The line on the far right is the 1st string (the thinnest string). If this diagram were for bass or mandolin it would have only four vertical lines.


If you were to hold your guitar in front of you with the strings facing towards you and theheadstock/tuning pegs towards the ceiling, the fretboard would look a little like this diagram. The horizontal line at the top is the nut of the guitar near the tuning pegs. The rest of the horizontal lines are the frets of the guitar. In this example there is a circle just behind the first fret of the first string. This means you would place a finger behind the first fret of the first string on your guitar. It’s simple!





When playing chords (more than one note at a time) fretboard diagrams often tell you which fret-hand fingers you should use. Your fretting hand is the one that touches the fretboard. If you are right-handed then your fretting hand is your left hand. Your index finger is called the first finger, middle finger is called second, ring finger is the third and pinky is the fourth. In the diagram below you would put your second finger on the third fret of the sixth string. Then you put your first finger on the second fret of the fifth string.


Finally you put your third finger on the third fret of the first string. Phew! That’s a lot of words to describe a relatively simple move on the guitar. You can probably see the value of fretboard diagrams now. You may have noticed the zeroes on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings. This just means that you pick those strings put do not put any fret-hand fingers on them.

Roman Numerals


Sometimes you’ll see a Roman numeral next to the diagram. The one below has a V (the Roman numeral for five) next to it. This means that the diagram starts at the fifth fret instead of the first fret. So in this example the diagram is showing you a note on the first string, fifth fret.

And that’s about it! Now you can read fretboard diagrams. This will give you a lot of opportunities for learning more about your instrument like reading music charts, lessons and writing chords to your own songs.

If you have any questions be sure to post a comment and I’ll be happy to help.


How to Hold a Guitar

Holding the guitar properly is important to make sure you are playing with good technique.  If you’re not holding it the correct way make sure you start today!

These directions are for right-handed players. Reverse the directions if you’re a lefty.

First, rest the guitar on your right leg. Keep your left elbow relaxed and near your body.

Don’t let the guitar get too far away from your body.  One common mistake is to let the bottom part of the guitar slide away from your body so that it starts to lay flat.  I think as beginners we tend to do this so we can get a better look at our hands and the fretboard.  But it puts the body in a bad position to be able to play properly so don’t do it!

Your left hand thumb should rest near the second fret when you are playing on the first few frets. It will move up and down the neck as necessary. Keep your back straight. No slouching!

You should have a slight curve or cup to your left hand palm.  Part of your palm may touch the neck at times but don’t grab the neck like a baseball bat.

Left hand fingers are nice and curved – not flat. The right hand pinky is resting on the body of the guitar.

I also recommend that you anchor your right hand pinky (and even the ring finger) on the pick guard when picking single notes.  You’ll see different opinions on this but I’ve found it gives beginners better control of the picking hand.  As you progress in your playing it’s a good idea to experiment and see what works best.

When you strum chords you usually should not anchor your pinky.  You generally need to keep a loose, flexible wrist when playing chords and holding the pinky on the pick guard would restrict that motion.

Have a question?  Just leave a comment below.

This article is a part of the podcast for beginning guitar players.

How to Hold a Guitar Pick

Holding the guitar pick the correct way is an important skill to learn right away and your playing will benefit from it.  Here’s how to hold it the right way.


First, curl your index finger slightly and place the pick on your index finger exactly as shown below. Notice that the edge of the pick rests right at the corner of your fingernail. Make sure you point the pick in the right direction.  Don’t let too much of the pick stick out past your finger.

Next, put your thumb on the pick. Again, the pick touches your thumb at the corner of your thumbnail.  Don’t squeeze the pick too hard.


Notice that there is just a tiny amount of pick showing. One of the most common mistakes I notice among new students is that they don’t grab enough of the pick. You need to “choke up” on the pick to get maximum control.  For single notes most of the motion actually comes from your index finger and thumb as opposed to your wrist.  When strumming chords you’ll use wrist motion.

This pick grip may feel very strange at first but I recommend you stick with it and try to get used to it since it gives you a lot of advantages like great pick control and the ability to do advanced picking techniques like hybrid-picking.  Hang in there!

I also created this video to help you out:

How to Read Guitar Tab

In addition to the standard music notation, some instruments have a simplified system for written music called tablature. Where standard notation is valid for nearly any instrument, tablature is used mainly for stringed instruments including guitar, bass, and mandolin. It requires a slightly different system for each instrument.

Tablature is sometimes called tab for short.   The terms are interchangeable. Let’s take a look at some examples of tab.

Figure 1 shows two blank measures of tab for guitar. Notice that there are six horizontal lines. This is different from the five lines in standard notation. The reason for this is that in standard notation the horizontal lines represent note names where in tablature the lines each represent a different string on the instrument.

Figure 1: Tablature

The bottom line represents the lowest string on the guitar €“ the low E or 6th string. This is the string closest to the ceiling. The next lowest line represents the low A or 5th string and so on until you reach the top line of tab which is the high E or 1st string of the guitar.

Figure 2 shows some measures of tab with some numbers on them. These numbers represent the fret of the instrument. So in the first measure you would play the open 6th string twice, then the third fret on the sixth string then the fourth fret on the sixth string. Finally in the second measure you play the open sixth string again.

Figure 2: Another tab example

Notice that there is really no timing information indicated. This is often true of tab. It is often useful when you are learning a song which you are already familiar with or if you have a recording of the song. However, not having timing information forces you to do some guesswork if you do not know the song.

Sometimes the notes indicate some timing information by spacing the notes farther apart when they are longer and spacing short notes more closely together. Tablature is sometimes written with vertical lines above or below the note to look like the stem on quarter notes (figure 3, measure one). Or they may have vertical lines joined by a horizontal bar to look like eighth notes (figure 4 measure one).


Figure 3: quarter notes in tab


Figure 4: eighth notes in tab

Tab works the same way for bass guitar. The standard bass has only four strings so the tablature has only four lines. Mandolin has four sets of unison strings so it too has four lines. Remember the bottom line on the tablature represents the string closest to the ceiling.

Tab can be written for violin even though the instrument has no frets. Open strings are of course indicated by zeroes. The first note on a given string is called one, then the next possible note is two and so one. Therefore, (if you are familiar with the notes on a violin) to indicate an F on the E string of a violin you would write a one on the top line of the violin tab.

Even with its drawbacks tablature is useful for quickly writing out parts for specific stringed instruments or for learning songs or solos with which you are already familiar. I find it a very valuable as a teaching tool. However, I always recommend that students learn standard notation as well as it opens up a lot of learning, playing and performance opportunities.

To learn more get my free ebook about how to read music for guitar, bass and mandolin by clicking here

Is It Better to Start With an Electric or Acoustic Guitar?

This is a question I hear fairly often.  There is no one right answer for everyone but I’ll tell you what you need to know in order to make the right decision for YOU.

It doesn’t really make a big difference which one you choose to start.  If you start with an electric guitar then it will probably be a little easier to play notes and chords.  The strings are usually thinner and they tend to be a little closer to the neck.  With entry level acoustics the strings are often further away from the neck which makes them more difficult to play.

Playing an acoustic guitar requires a little more pressure to fret notes and causes a little more wear and tear on your fingers.  This is not necessarily bad though!  It will help you build up the hand strength you need and will help build good callouses on your fingertips. And when you have good callouses your fingers won’t hurt when you play.

You should also think about what kind of music you like best and what you think you’ll be playing most.  If you want to play rippin’ Hendrix solos then you’ll need an electric guitar to do it any justice.  On the other hand if you plan on doing singer/songwriter type songs then an acoustic will probably be a better fit.

And keep in mind that entry level acoustics are generally cheaper than entry level electrics.

Click here to see the acoustic and electric guitars for beginners that I recommend most.

If you have questions be sure to put leave them in the comment section!



Top Ten Mistakes Made by Beginning Guitarists (part 3 of 3)

7 Not keeping fingers close to the fret.

Its easier to play and you will sound better when you place your fretting finger close the the fret. A lot of times I see students putting their finger about halfway between two frets. If you do this you’ll need to press down harder on the string which makes it harder to play. Also, your notes will tend to not ring as clearly.

8 Letting the guitar lay flat on the lap

When you first start playing you need to be able to see your fingers clearly so you know you are doing things correctly. Many beginners will tilt the guitar back – sometimes until its almost flat on their lap – so they can see better. Don’t be one of those people! Doing this does allow you to get a better look but it also puts your hands in a terrible position for playing. Pay attention while you are playing to make sure this doesn’t happen to you. Its easy to do this without noticing.

9 “My fingers aren’t long enough!”

This is very common. So many students have told me that their fingers are not long enough to be able to play the 6th string or play a G chord or anything else that requires a big stretch. Usually I’ll ask the student to hold their hand up to mine and show them that their fingers are about the same size as mine. Then I’ll demonstrate that I can play those big stretches without a lot of effort.

The problem is almost never the size of the hand. Its getting your fingers used to making those awkward movements that only guitar players need to make. Once you are aware of this you can change your mindset from “I will never be able to do this” (ie my hand is too small) to “I am learning to do this correctly”.

10 Using giant pick strokes

This is another really common mistake. More than half of all the beginners I’ve taught have started out using huge pick strokes. When picking a single note, the pick should usually only move around a quarter inch (about .5 cm). Kids especially tend to use a lot of motion when they pick but adults are sometimes guilty too.

The problem is often due to the fact that the student is using the elbow to move the pick. The elbow should stay more or less motionless. The motion should come mostly from your fingers when playing a single string and from your wrist when strumming chords.

Those are the top ten mistakes I’ve come across in my years as a guitar teacher. I hope that you found at least one or two that helpd you get better on guitar. If you’d like to share the mistakes that you’ve made I’d love to hear about them. Leave them in the comments section below.


Top Ten Mistakes Made by Beginning Guitarists (part 2 of 3)

Part 2 of 3

Find part one of this article by clicking here.

4 Not getting consistent practice

This is a big one… You need to practice nearly every day if you want to get better. Many beginners make the mistake of thinking that they will get better by just taking lessons online or from a teacher. But the truth is – most of your improvement comes from the time you spend practicing in between your lessons. You’ve got to spend time playing to get better. And you’ve got to practice consistently. Instead of practicing three hours on the day of your lesson its best to break that time up into six or seven sessions of 20-30 minutes throughout the week.

5 Not bending the fretting hand fingers

You need to play notes using the tips of your fingers. Your fingers should be curled so that they bend at the first two joints.

The right way to fret a note
The Correct Way to Fret a Note

The wrong way to fret a note
The Wrong Way to Fret a Note

This may not seem important at first. After all you can probably play notes with flat fingers and they may sound fine. However, as you start to play more difficult things on the guitar such as chords or fast licks you’ll find that keeping your fingers flat will not work at all.

6 Not letting the notes ring out. Not playing clear notes.

Every note you play should ring out clearly. It should not sound muffled and you should not hear a buzzing sound. While this problem is sometimes caused by playing on a guitar that is not setup properly, most often its caused by not having your finger close enough to the frets or by not pushing hard enough.


Click here to view part 3 of this article.


The Top Ten Mistakes Made by Beginning Guitarists (Part 1 of 3)

I’ve taught guitar for many years now and over time I’ve noticed that a few mistakes are common to most beginning guitarists. Here is part one of a three part article that lists the top ten mistakes I’ve noticed and what you can do about them!

1 Not keeping the thumb at 2nd fret:

When you first start playing, you usually play between frets 1 and 4. This is sometimes called “first position”. When playing in first position, the fretting hand thumb should be between the first and second frets. Usually its close to the second fret.

Most beginners start out with their thumb in that position but while they are playing they tend to slide the thumb around because it is easier to reach some of the notes that way. But when your thumb moves out of position it makes it more difficult to find the right fret by feel.

When you are first starting out you have a lot of things to pay attention to and its easy to forget about keeping your thumb stationary. Make sure to check every so often to make sure your thumb has not wandered away from where it should be. It can also be helpful to have someone else watch your thumb while you are playing and let you know if you move it.

2 Holding the pick wrong

The pick grip that most experienced guitar players use feels strange at first. See my blog post that teaches you how to hold the pick the right way.

3 Playing too fast!

Most of us want to be able to play fast. The problem is that most of us try to play fast before we are ready to. No one likes to hear this, but you NEED to start playing slowly. You need to play at a speed that feels “in control” to you. You should never feel rushed. When you are playing something that is new to you, you should take all the time you need to play it perfectly. Practice playing it perfectly over and over and THEN start to speed up just a little. If you speed up just a little bit every single day then you will be playing a lot faster in a month! AND you will be playing much cleaner and more accurately than if you had tried to start playing at a high speed to ostart.

If you play too fast and “out of control” then you will make mistakes. But the worst part is that you are actually training yourself to make mistakes in the future. By playing something over and over incorrectly, your hands will get used to making these mistakes and you will make them again and again.

You can find part 2 to this article by clicking here.


What kind of pick should I use?

What kind of guitar pick should I use?” As a guitar teacher, I hear this question a lot.
There are quite a few choices available so beginners and intermediate players alike often
wonder which pick they should be using.

Choosing the right pick depends largely on personal taste so you may need to experiment a
little. But there are some guidelines that you can follow to make the choice easier for you.

For example, if you usually strum chords when you play guitar then a thinner pick might work
better for you. Thin picks have less resistance so they tend to glide across the strings a
little easier. You can play strumming patterns more quickly and without the feeling of
“fighting” the guitar if you use a thin pick.

A thin pick however does have a thinner tone with more bite to it. If you want a bigger,
warmer sound you may prefer a thicker pick. I usually use a thick pick when playing a lot of
single string lines (ie. a guitar lead). I love the full, rich tone that I get when using this
sort of pick. Usually I play a 2.0 mm Adamas pick for lead work.

The main drawback to a thicker pick is that it may slow you down a bit. You have to work a
tiny bit harder to play each note and this can make it feel like it’s more difficult to play
with a bigger pick. For this reason, if I need to play very fast, single string music (flatpicking bluegrass guitar for example) then I’ll usually choose a medium pick since that seems to be a good compromise between speed and tone.

Next time you’re at the music store consider buying a whole assortment of different picks and
experimenting with them. Picks are cheap so it’s probably a good idea to take the time to learn what works best for you.

Beginning Guitar – How to Play Guitar – Episode 13

In this episode I go over a new type of strumming pattern. This one adds bass notes to the chords and gives you some more polished, professional sounds than the more basic patterns we’ve done in earlier episodes.

Hold down a G chord with your left hand. Bass note is on the 6th string.


Hold a G chord for the first measure and a C chord for the second measure. Bass note for a C chord is on the 5th string.


Bass, chord, bass, chord pattern


The “cowboy” rhythm pattern


Bass, chord, alternate bass, chord pattern. The alternate bass for a G chord is on the 4th string.


How to do alternate bass with a cowboy rhythm


Adding a quick upstroke on the “and” between the 2nd and 3rd beat

Adding a quick upstroke to the cowboy pattern


The alternate bass note for a D chord is on the 5th string


D chord cowboy pattern with alternating bass


The alternate bass for a C chord is on the 6th string, 3rd fret. You need to move your third finger to do this.



Repeat After Me answers page